By Kevin Aho

Kevin Aho, University of South Florida


It is common to find Heidegger’s Being and Time located under the genre of 20th century existentialism with the works of Sartre, Camus, and Jaspers, along with his 19th century counterparts, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. This is due in large part to Heidegger’s conception of “authenticity,” a way of being that faces and affirms the finitude and contingency of life in a godless world. Existentialism resonates to Heideggerian authenticity in the way it appears to sever human beings from the normative comforts and stability of public life, leaving us alone to choose and create our own singular meanings and values against the background of nothingness. In this essay, I examine the merits of the existentialist interpretation of authenticity and contend that such an interpretation fails to recognize the fundamental role historicity plays in Heidegger’s conception of authenticity. For Heidegger, historicity determines the structure of existence in such a way that the authentic human being is never an isolated individual; it can never rebel against or overcome its own socio-historical situation because a human being is always already a historical being.

The argument of this paper is twofold. First, I explore the popularized interpretation of existentialist authenticity and explain why it is easy, but mistaken, to locate Heidegger’s philosophy of authenticity within the confines of existentialism. Second, with a significant debt to Lawrence Vogel’s research,[1]I introduce the relevance of historicist authenticity as a response to the existentialist interpretation, explaining the importance that Heidegger places on community and heritage within the context of authenticity. I then provide some critical comments concerning the problems that historicity poses in terms of providing a trans-historical foundation for authenticity. I conclude by turning to Heidegger’s later writings on the relationship between disclosive truth (aletheia) and modern technology in an attempt to unearth such a foundation.

Heidegger and Existentialist Authenticity

Nietzsche’s posthumously published The Will to Power perhaps best exemplifies the experience of nihilism that profoundly influenced European existentialism in the early 20th century. The philosophic term “nihilism” signifies a sense of negativity and emptiness. There is no truth sustaining us, no foundational substance, no soul, no God. Humankind must abandon all hope in philosophy, religion, or science to provide a grounding sense of comfort or stability. Nietzsche’s is the “most extreme form of nihilism . . . [because] every belief, every considering-something-true, is necessarily false; there is no true world.”[2]The very idea of “truth” is an error. “There is no truth; there is no absolute nature of things nor a ‘thing-in-itself’.”[3]The truths that we impose on the world are merely “fictions” which we need to subdue temporarily the purposeless, chaotic movement of existence. For Nietzsche, the Western tradition’s emphasis on truth, rationality, order, and permanence is illusory. With Zarathustra signaling the “death of God,” there is nothing left to support and stabilize humankind. We are left alone in a world empty of form and meaning. Nietzsche challenges the European to face and affirm her mortal predicament as an individual, to create solitarily her own unique truths and values independent of those inherited from European history.

As I argue below, Heidegger’s ethic of self-possession that emerges in the Second Division of Being and Time resonates strongly to the existentialist ethic. But the originality of Heidegger’s existential analytic resides in his unique conception of human existence as Dasein. For the existentialists, human existence is interpreted in terms of a concrete, autonomous subject able to sever itself willfully from its socio-cultural and historical conditions. In this sense, existentialism is still unashamedly humanistic, operating within the tradition of subjectivity inherited from Descartes. However it is a mistake to place Heidegger within this tradition.[4]Heidegger cautions against the error of interpreting Dasein in terms of subjectivity early on in Being and Time: “One of our first tasks will be to show the point of departure from an initially given [‘I’] and subject totally fails to see the phenomenal content of Dasein” (BT 46, 43). [5]

For Heidegger, the claims of the existentialists remain confined within a tradition that focuses on human beings and neglects the hermeneutics of the sum, the interpretation of the meaning of being.Dasein does not refer to a human being in the traditional sense: an animal rationale (Plato/Aristotle), a self-encapsulated cogito (Descartes), a self-overcoming subject (Nietzsche), a radical subject (Sartre), etc. Rather,Dasein refers to the fact that human beings are always already structured by “being-the-world.” “These determinations of the being of Dasein must now be seen and understood as a priori as grounded upon that constitution of being which we call being-in-the- world” (BT 53, 49). Interpreted in terms of being-in-the-world, we are not detached, autonomous subjects but beings who are already concretely engaged in a particular historical situation. And we “exist” in terms of already having a unique understanding of what it means to be human in such a situation. We are not born with this understanding; we grow into it through a process of socialization whereby we acquire the possibility to interpret ourselves in terms of the shared acts and practices of our history. This understanding of being discloses itself pre-reflectively in the flow of our everyday lives. Consequently, we can never explicitly articulate our understanding of being because we always already dwell in it; our understanding remains “vague” and “average.”[6]

For Heidegger, our public world constitutes the background of social acts and practices into which we are “thrown” (Geworfenheit). As a result, “the they” (das Man) already determines our understanding of being, controlling the context of meaning and intelligibility for us. In this sense, the world of others provides the possibilities for who we are and what we are to become. “’I’ ‘am’ not in the sense of my own self, but I am the others in the mode of the they. In terms of the they, and as the they, I am initially ‘given’ to ‘myself’”(BT 129, 121). Hence, human beings are never isolated subjects, separate and distinct from the public world. Structured by being-in-the-world, we are always already “being-with” (Mitsein) others, and others exercise an elemental control over us.

Dasein stands in subservience to the others. It itself is not; the others have taken its being away from it. The everyday possibilities of the being of Dasein are at the disposal of the whims of the others. These others are not definite others. On the contrary, any other can represent them. What is decisive is only the inconspicuous domination by others that Dasein as being-with has already taken over unawares. (BT 126, 118)

Consequently, we are essentially a “being-with-one-another,” a “they-self”(BT, 127, 119).[7]Everyday and for the most part others take possession of us; this results in a way of being that is permeated by “publicness,” “averageness,” “leveling”(BT 128, 120). As a “they-self,” we are “lost,” “tranquilized”; we are “disburdened” of our being. “The they accommodates Dasein in its tendency to take things easily and make them easy” (BT 128, 120). As a “they-self,” we are structurallyinauthentic. Heidegger’s response to inauthenticity is revealed in his account of authentic “being-towards-death,” a response that resonates strongly to the themes of existentialism.

The existentialist interpretation of Heideggerian authenticity is due in large part to his interpretation of human temporality. For Heidegger, the meaning of being that discloses itself in human acts and practices is temporality, and the primary temporal mode is “futural” (zukumftig). As futural, we are always on the way, always ahead of ourselves. For this reason, we are fundamentally a “potentiality” that can never attain completeness or “wholeness”(BT 236, 219). “This structural factor of [Dasein’s] care tells us unambiguously that something is always still outstanding in Dasein which has not yet become “real” as potentiality-of-its-being. A constant unfinished quality thus lies in the essence of the constitution of Dasein” (BT 236, 219). We are “unfinished” because our existence is defined by always pressing forward into future social possibilities, possibilities that ultimately end with death.[8]As long as we exist, we are literally no-thing. Only in death do we finally become something. In this sense, our existence is interpreted as a kind of nullity, a “groundless ground,” because the social projects that give our lives a sense of permanence, stability, and identity are ultimately penetrated by the constant possibility of our own death. For the existentialists, the conception of “being-towards-death” is crucial because it is only by a relation to our own death that we can grasp our own singular temporality. Death is the only event that is our own, severing us from our public bondage to others. Heidegger confirms: “No one can take the other’s dying away from him. . . . Every Dasein must itself actually take dying upon itself. Insofar as it “is,” death is always essentially my own” (BT 240, 223).

The common, inauthentic response to our awareness of impending death is “flight” back into the illusory stability of our daily routines as a “they-self.”

The fact that factically many people initially and for the most part do not know about death must not be used to prove that being-toward-death does not “generally” belong to Dasein, but only proves that Dasein, fleeing from it, initially and for the most part covers over its ownmost being-toward-death. (BT 252, 233)

Such flight is common because the primordial possibility of death is revealed in the “ground-mood” (Grundstimmung) of “anxiety.” Anxiety reveals to us our potentiality for death, by causing the withdrawal of all of our stabilizing worldly routines. “Anxiety in the face of death is anxiety “in the face of” one’s ownmost nonrelational and unsurpassable possibility for being. That which this anxiety is “in the face of” is being-in-the-world itself” (BT 232, 176). With the experience of anxiety, we now have a reference to death as a constant possibility. And with this reference we are free to “act” authentically in the world, going about our daily tasks “without illusions . . . but rising from the sober understanding of the factical possibilities of Dasein” (BT, 310, 286). We act authentically only if we securely grasp our own precariousness, the fact that our being is penetrated by nothingness. Only then do our acts become “mine.” With the experience of anxiety, one becomes an individual and is no longer a “they-self.” “Anxiety fetches Dasein back out of its entangled absorption in “the They.” Everyday familiarity collapses. Dasein is individuated, but as being-in-the-world. Being-in enters the existential “mode” of not-being-at-home. The talk about uncanniness means nothing other than this” (BT 189, 176).

The inauthentic response to anxiety is “flight” back into the public world, becoming “lost” once again in “the they.” The authentic response is “resoluteness” (Entschlossenheit). “‘Resoluteness’ means letting oneself be summoned out of one’s lostness in ‘the they’”(BT 299, 275). Resoluteness enables us to be ready for anxiety, to face our own finitude and accept the fact that our everyday social routines are already inauthentic because they give our lives a false sense of permanence and stability.[9]In this sense, when we are resolute we possess ourselves. We can be interpreted as a singular, authentic individual, liberated from “the they” as we begin to understand our life projects for what they are and are freed from the worry of establishing stabilizing foundations. This individuating quality of “being-towards-death” appears to sever us from our inauthentic social world. And Heidegger’s account of the authentic self begins to look much like existentialist authenticity. Lawrence Vogel explains:

Heidegger surely invites this existentialist interpretation and so makes him vulnerable to the charges that his philosophy is radically individualistic, egocentric, voluntaristic, and decisionistic. . . . The individuating power of being-towards-death drives a wedge between the self and nature and between the individual and the community. Heidegger’s insistence that anxiety and authenticity do not take us out of the world but lead to a more primordial engagement does not resolve the tensions between being-unto-death on the one hand and being-in-the-world and being-with-others on the other.[10]

Before critically dismantling the existentialist interpretation of the authentic self, we can conclude this section by highlighting several important similarities between Heidegger and existentialism. First, Heidegger, like Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Nietzsche, acknowledges the nihilistic predicament that faces humankind, that there is no trans-historical, universal truth that can provide a secure foundation for existence. As a “being-towards-death” our life is fundamentally unstable. Second, Heidegger interprets everyday being-with-others as “inauthentic,” a source of mass conformity where others take over the burden of choosing our lives for us. Although Heidegger contends that he is not making any moralizing claims about being-with-others, it is difficult not to interpret the “leveling” influence of others negatively, as it is for the existentialists.[11]For Heidegger, being-with-others is essentially “thrown,” “ambiguous,” “tempting,” “tranquilizing,” “alienating,” “entangled,” “fallen,” etc. [12]Third, the inauthentic person “loses herself” in the possibilities prescribed by others, whereas the authentic person takes possession of herself by severing her ties to the “the they” and, like Nietzsche’s “overman” and Kierkegaard’s “knight of faith,” claims and creates her ownmost factical possibilities. It is this ethic of individual self-possession, without any reference to a stabilizing criterion of values that is particularly instructive to the existentialist tradition.

Interpreting Heidegger’s conception of authenticity exclusively within the confines of our temporal finitude as “being-towards-death” fails, however, because it does not give an account of the other half our temporal constitution, namely, our “historicity.” For Heidegger, authenticity is not an individual affair. Rather, the possibilities for authenticity are communal; they are made available by a shared heritage.

Heidegger and Historicist Authenticity

Although Heidegger insists that “anxiety individualizes and discloses human beings as ‘solus ipse’” or alone selves (BT 176, 188), this does not mean that the resolute individual emerges as a self- contained ego or subject severed from her fallen world. Rather, resoluteness provides a more primordial awareness of our being-in-the-world.

As authentic being a self, resoluteness does not detach Dasein from its world, nor does it isolate it as a free-floating ego. How could it, if resoluteness as authentic disclosedness is, after all, nothing other than authentically being-in-the-world? Resoluteness brings the self right into its being together with things at hand, actually taking care of them, and pushes it toward concerned being-with with the others. (BT 298, 274)

This existential “solipsism” is so far from the displacement of putting an isolated subject- Thing into the innocuous emptiness of a worldless occurring, that in an extreme sense what it does is precisely to bring Dasein face to face with its world as world, and thus brings it face to face with itself as Being-in-the-world. (BT 188, 176)

For Heidegger, authenticity does not entail an existential rebellion that overcomes one’s entanglements in a conformist world. Rather, it involves an “appropriation,” a primordial recognition of our own historical past. In this sense, the personal choices of the authentic individual are never original; they are never our own. The possibilities for our decisions and actions are always already socially constituted, through the language, public practices, and cultural institutions that we grow into as historical beings.[13]Anxiety does not force us into a precarious freedom, leaving the authentic individual alone to create her own values. Rather, anxiety opens us up to our “fate,” our “destiny,” our rootedness to a shared community with a shared past.

[I]f fateful Dasein essentially exists as being-in-the-world in being-with others, its occurrence-with is determined as destiny. With this term, we designate the occurrence of the community of a people. Destiny is not composed of individual fates, nor can being-with- one-another be conceived of as the mutual occurrence of several subjects. (BT 385, 352)

The anxious awareness of “being-towards-death” certainly individualizes us in the sense of reminding us of our ultimate finitude, but such individualizing does not sever us from our socio- historical situation. The authentic individual is always already an authentic being-with-others.

Again, the individualism of the existentialist reading presupposes the metaphysics of subjectivity, where the free subject transcends her current social situation and takes radical responsibility for creating her own values and meanings against the background of nothingness. Heidegger’s account of human historicity prevents his interpretation of authenticity from succumbing to the charges of subjectivism.[14]Because we can never disengage ourselves from our shared heritage, we are never radically free. Our freedom takes place against the background of social acts and practices unique to our heritage. Vogel explains:

While being-unto-death individuates Dasein it does not subjectivize him; “the Self” is not an internal, subjective being radically distinct from external, objective projects and situations. Rather than transporting Dasein from the actual world to other possible worlds where one would be a different person by engaging in other life projects, authentic Being-unto-death leads to the appreciation of one’s finite freedom: to a recognition of the compelling situation of the actual historical world and to an urgent commitment to what is most unique about one’s way of being-there. Only as a member of a shared community with a shared heritage does one not seek to own up to one’s fate in relation to a wider destiny “we” all face.[15]

Rooted to a shared heritage, the authentic individual must come to understand what her own unique heritage will offer as possibilities (for future actions and choices.) Her heritage provides possible paths that she can take. As resolute, it is up to her to determine critically which paths are to be followed, which qualities of her communal past are to be “appropriated,” “retrieved,” and “repeated.” “Resoluteness that comes back to itself and hands itself down then becomes the retrieve of a possibility of existence that has been handed down. Retrieve is explicit handing down, that is, going back to the possibilities of the Dasein that has been there” (BT 385, 352). Though the possibilities for the resolute individual are conditioned by the historical situation that she has inherited, this does not mean that Heidegger is succumbing to a form of “hard” historical determinism. The resolute individual is not merely hard-wired by history, rather she is free to “decide,” to seize the possibilities that history offers her, to engage her heritage thoughtfully in order to decide “in a moment of vision” what is worth retrieving and repeating.

[R]etrieve is not convinced by “something past,” in just letting it come back as what was once real. Rather, retrieve responds to the possibility of existence that has been-there. But responding to the possibility in a resolution is at the same time, as in the Moment, the disavowal of what is working itself out today as the “past.” Retrieve neither abandons itself to the past, nor does it aim at progress. In the Moment, authentic existence is indifferent to both these alternatives. (BT 386, 353) Because the past that she seeks to retrieve critically and repeat is a shared, communal past, the future possibilities towards which her choices and actions project are never her own possibilities. They are the possibilities of a people, of a “generation.”

It is true that Dasein is delivered over to itself and its potentiality-of-being, but as being-in-the- world. As thrown, it is dependent upon a “world,” and exists factically with others. . . . The resoluteness in which Dasein comes back to itself discloses actual possibilities of authentic existing in terms of the heritage which that resoluteness takes over as thrown. . . . The fateful destiny of Dasein in and with its “generation” constitutes the complete, authentic occurrence of Dasein. (BT 383, 352)

Hence, the existentialist reading of Heideggerian authenticity forgets that we are constituted by a twofold structure of temporality: (a) our own futural finitude as a “being-toward-death” and (b) our historical “thrownness” as a communal, historical being-in-the-world.[16]As we have seen, the existentialist interpretation of authenticity only acknowledges the first condition, but Heidegger makes it clear that any analysis of the way of being human must include an analysis of our “historicity.”

The being of Dasein finds its meaning in temporality. But temporality is at the same time the condition of the possibility as a temporal mode of the being of Dasein itself. . . . Historicity means the constitution of being of the “occurrence” of Dasein as such . . . Dasein is determined by historicity in the ground of its being. (BT 20, 17, my emphasis)

By situating authenticity within the context of a shared history, we can see how Heidegger resists the radically individualistic quality of existentialist nihilism, but another form of nihilism persists.

Vogel argues that one of the risks of Heidegger’s position is that it simply replaces the arbitrariness inherent in existentialist nihilism with the arbitrariness inherent in “historicism,” the fact that we are inevitably determined by the limitations of our current historical situation.[17]This historical situation is itself groundless because it is forever in a state of flux; it does not offer a foundation, an enduring, trans-historical perspective that will universally determine decisions and commitments as authentic. The flux of history merely offers a context of contingent worldliness within which we may appropriate apparently random possibilities. Hence, Heidegger appears to succumb to a version of nihilism in the form of “historicism.”[18]As historical beings, we have no privileged access to the primordial origin or foundation that provides us with a measure for distinguishing authentic from inauthentic possibilities.

Charles Guignon addresses this problem by suggesting that Being and Time can be read as a reaction to the developments of historicism. According to Guignon, the standpoint of 19th century historicism interpreted history as a series of disconnected epochs with no inner unity, no enduring values or goals, no telos.[19]Guignon interprets Heidegger as rejecting this nihilistic conception of history by attempting to unearth trans-historical values and meanings that have been obscured by the Western tradition. Guignon argues:

Being and Time attempts to combat the “groundlessness” of the contemporary world by uncovering enduring values and meanings within the framework of ‘worldliness’ and human finitude. The “question of Being” is no exercise in arcane speculation; its aim is to restore a sense of the gravity and responsibility of existence by recovering a more profound grasp of what it is to be.[20]

Heidegger’s effort to undo the history of Western metaphysics must be understood in terms of his contrast between “heritage” (Erbeschaft) and “tradition” (Tradition). For Heidegger, anxiety opens us up to the possibility of “retrieving” a shared historical community, a “heritage” which contains the primordial “wellsprings” of our current “tradition.” Our heritage is our authentic past, and it has been distorted and “covered over” by the conformist fads and fashions of our tradition. Our tradition conceals the trans-historical values and guiding determinations of our heritage that lie below the crust of the prevailing status quo. Hence, “The tradition deprives Dasein of its own leadership in questioning and choosing”(BT 21, 18).

The tradition that hereby gains dominance makes what it “transmits” so little accessible that initially and for the most part it covers over instead. What has been handed down it hands over to obviousness; it bars access to those original “wellsprings” out of which the traditional categories and concepts were in part genuinely drawn. The tradition even makes us forget such a provenance altogether. Indeed it makes us wholly incapable of even understanding that such a return [to Dasein’s heritage] is even necessary. (BT 21, 19)

For Heidegger, the tradition “dominates” us by focusing only on the interpretations of the past made accessible by the current social trends of the conformist public, trends that we cling to for a source of security, as a flight from our own “groundlessness.”

The experience of anxiety destabilizes the illusory hold of permanence that our current tradition has over us, a hold that presently determines our understanding of being, the way beings are revealed or show up for us as such. Consequently, the tradition of Western metaphysics must be critically dismantled or “de-structured” in order to uncover the primordial arche, which in turn, provides history with a unified telos, a “guiding determination.” “The destructuring is based upon the original experiences in which the first and subsequently guiding determinations of being were gained”(BT 23, 20). With Guignon’s reading, authentic historicity demands that we appropriate and retrieve the primordial and enduring wellsprings from which our current possibilities emerge and from which we derive our traditional way of being-in-the-world, a way of being that currently conceals its own origins.[21]

However, Vogel argues that Guignon’s claim is problematic because the content of our possibilities belong to our own particular heritage, not to the heritage of humanity as a whole. Therefore, we cannot appropriate the single, univocal past. Heidegger’s “hermeneutic circle” demands that our retrieval of the past is always already conditioned by our understanding of being, an understanding rooted to a particular heritage, and there is no way for us to overcome the limitations and distortions that such a heritage imposes on us. Hence, there is no privileged access to the primordial “wellsprings” of our heritage.[22]The de-structuring of the history of metaphysics merely discloses regional, local origins, in Heidegger’s case, the Greek beginnings of our current, Western understanding of being, an understanding which in no way stretches across the fabric of humanity as a whole. Heidegger’s conception of historicity appears nihilistic by yielding to a form of relativistic provincialism, where each historical community has its own relative heritage, its own “fate” and “destiny.” Our historicity appears to offer an account of authenticity that remains fundamentally regional and groundless in the sense of unifying humankind.[23]

Vogel attempts to overcome the problem of provincialism by offering his own “cosmopolitan” reading of Heideggerian authenticity. This reading contends that Heidegger’s brief account of “liberating solicitude” [24]inBeing and Time offers a universal, ethical way of being that frees others or “lets others be” in terms of choosing their own possibilities and commitments without the paternalistic control of “the they.” For Vogel, this is a foundational standpoint that regards humanity as a whole in terms of ends with equal moral worth in which authentic being-with lets others “become who they are.”[25]However, for Heidegger, interpreting authenticity from the standpoint of morality would be an ontic endeavor and would therefore depart from his project of “fundamental ontology,” an inquiry into the being of beings.[26]This departure requires Vogel to take tremendous interpretive leaps with Heidegger’s project. Vogel acknowledges the dilemma:

I have admitted that the cosmopolitan reading requires that Heidegger’s thin treatment of authentic being-with-others be developed in such a way that allows for a criticism of his official position that morality is an [ontic] inauthentic mode of existence. My favored interpretation of authenticity, then, demands that certain underplayed strains in Being and Time be accented and turned against the more dominant voice of the text: that is, so to speak, Heidegger to be read against Heidegger.[27]

Yet we can bypass the problems of Vogel’s “cosmopolitan” interpretation and remain faithful to Heidegger’s original contribution by locating the trans-historical ground of authenticity in terms of his conception of disclosive truth (aletheia). Heidegger’s later writings on technology provide the clue.[28]

According to Heidegger, the Greek word technecaptures the original sense of technology as a mode of “revealing” or “unconcealing.” As such, techne is a manifestation of “truth” in the primordial, disclosive sense of aletheia, referring to the being of beings, the way beings “show up” or “come out of concealment” as such.[29]With the Greek conception of techne, the artist or craftsman helps that which is “brought forth” to “reveal itself.”[30]Originallytechne was conceived in terms of a harmony or rapport with nature, of gently “releasing” that which is “brought forth” to become the very thing that it is.[31]For instance, the pre-modern craftsman makes “the old wooden bridge” that “lets the river run its course.”[32]This is opposed to techne in the modern age, where “the hydroelectric plant” turns the river into a reservoir, where beings are forced to come out of concealment in only one way, as a potential resource, a “standing reserve” waiting to be “set upon,” “challenged,” and “enframed” (Gestell).[33]The mode of revealing of modern technology is “inauthentic” because it violently “drives out every other possibility of revealing” and fails to let beings “come forth” in their own depth, as “mysterious.”[34]

The technological worldview excludes this sense of mystery, offering a horizon of disclosure that is tyrannical, where beings “come forth” solely as resources available for use. Heidegger refers to this exclusion as “flight from mystery” which is tantamount to “erring.” “Man’s flight from the mystery toward what is readily available, onward from one current thing to the next, passing the mystery by—this is erring.”[35]As “erring,” the horizon of modern technology is a form of “untruth.” It conceals the mystery, the full, incomprehensible disclosure of things. In the light of Heidegger’s later writings, authenticity is to be interpreted ontologically in terms of disclosive truth, of freedom understood as Gelassenheit. Gelassenheitis a “letting-be [which] exposes itself to beings as such and transposes all comportment into the open region. The essence of truth reveals itself as freedom, [a] disclosive letting beings be.”[36]Modern technology conceals this disclosive “letting-be” by forcing all beings to show up in terms of an objectifying worldview. As a consequence, “untruth” reigns in the technological age because beings show up in only one way, as resource.[37]Today we fail to recognize that the technological mode of revealing is not our only possibility. As a result, we have forgotten how to be authentic or more specifically, how to “dwell” in the modern age.

It appears that Heidegger’s concept of “dwelling” offers a trans-historical foundation for disclosive authenticity understood in terms of Gelassenheit. Dwelling is unlike the technological mode of revealing because it refers to an original way of being that is “open” to other possibilities for revealing rather than “blocking off” these possibilities in terms of a totalizing technological worldview. As a consequence, “[dwelling] promises us a new ground and foundation upon which we can stand and endure in the world of technology without being imperiled by it.”[38]Dwelling opens an original horizon of disclosure that does not confine, restrict, or “block off.” This horizon is “the Open.”

[The Open] does not block off because it does not set bounds. It does not set bounds because it is in itself without all bounds. The Open is the great whole of all that is unbounded. It lets the beings ventured into the pure draft draw as they are drawn. . . . The Open admits.[39]

By dwelling in the Open, we are authentic, letting beings come out of concealment in all of their plenitude and depth.

In Being and Time, Heidegger claims that the anxious awareness of our own finitude destabilizes the illusory hold of permanence and stability that our current technological tradition has over us, a hold that presently determines the way beings are disclosed. This technological disclosure is perilous because it is total; it forces beings to show up in only one way, and it “rules the whole earth.”[40]The resolute “retrieval” of our shared heritage allows us to see that the “wellsprings” of this horizon of disclosure originated in ancient Greece and is only one of many possible ways for beings to come out of concealment that have emerged throughout the course of Western history. And the original Greek understanding of techne offered a more primordial way of revealing that was not yet trapped within the totalizing horizon of Gestell.[41]Heidegger continues this train of thought in his later writings by reintroducing authenticity in terms of “mortals” who “dwell.” As mortals, humans embody the anxious awareness of being-towards-death. “They are called mortals because they can die. To die means to be capable of death as death.”[42]Hence, mortals are not trapped within the tradition of Gestell; mortals dwell in the Open, in the original horizon of disclosure, a horizon that contains within it the possibility of modern technology yet escapes its “captivity” by remaining open to other possibilities. Heidegger confirms that this is what he meant by authentic resoluteness all along. “The resoluteness intended in Being and Time is not the deliberate action of a subject, but the opening up of a human being, out of its captivity in that which is, to the openness of Being.”[43]Dwelling requires human beings to reacquaint themselves with the Open. By dwelling we no longer force beings to show up in terms of a technological grid, rather we experience beings in their truth by freeing them, “allowing every mode of comportment to flourish in letting beings be.”[44]



[1]I am thankful to conversations with Charles Guignon who initially introduced me to Lawrence Vogel’s work, particularly, the book The Fragile “We”: Ethical Implications of Heidegger’s Being and Time (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern UP, 1994), to which much of this paper is indebted.

[2]Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1967) 14.

[3]Nietzsche, The Will to Power 14.


[4]Jean-Paul Sartre is probably the most famous commentator who makes this mistake. In Existentialism and Humanism he writes, “The [existentialists], amongst whom we must place Heidegger as well as the French existentialists and myself . . . what they have in common is simply the fact that they believe that existence comes before any essence—or, if you will, that we must begin from the subjective.” Cited in Richard Kearney and Mara Rainwater ed., The Continental Philosophy Reader (New York: Routledge, 1996) 66.


[5]All references to Heidegger’s Being and Time (BT) are from Joan Stambaugh’s translation (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1996). The original German pagination is followed by Stambaugh’s pagination.


[6]We “already stand in an understanding of the ‘is’ [being] without being able to determine conceptually what the ‘is’ means …. This average and vague understanding of being is a fact”(BT 5, 4).


[7]Being-with-others is a fundamental structure of Dasein. Heidegger refers to such structures as existentials.


[8]Hence, death is interpreted as our “greatest ownmost” possibility (BT 251, 232).


[9]For Heidegger, it is important to understand that inauthenticity is not some sort of deficient mode of being or something that can be avoided altogether. Inauthenticity, the mode of being of the “they-self,” is a fundamental structure of Dasein’s being, what Heidegger refers to as an existential. It “belongs to Dasein’s positive constitution”(BT 121). Authenticity is only a derivative mode, an existentiellmode, of our essential way of being as a “they-self.” Heidegger explains, “Authentic Being-one’s-self does not rest upon an exceptional condition of the subject, a condition that has been detached from the Anyone; it is rather an existentiell modification of the Anyone—of the Anyone as an essential existential” (BT 130, 122). See Charles Guignon, “Heidegger’s ‘Authenticity’ Revisited, Review of Metaphysics 38 (1984) 329.


[10]Vogel 38.

[11]Heidegger writes, “[T]he inauthenticity of Dasein does not signify a “lesser” being or a “lower” degree of being. Rather, inauthenticity can determine Dasein even in its fullest fullest concretion, when it is busy, excited, interested, and capable of pleasure”(BT 43, 40).

[12]I am paraphrasing Vogel’s negative assessment of inauthenticity. See Vogel 13.

[13]Vogel 45.

[14]This is a charge that is leveled against Heidegger by many commentators including Frederick Olafson. See Olafson’s Heidegger and the Ground of Ethics: A Study of Mitsein, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998). Again see Vogel’s assessment of these charges, 50-54.


[15]Vogel 50.


[16]Heidegger explains that the meaning of the being of Dasein is temporality itself. “The being of Dasein finds it meaning in temporality. But temporality is at the same time the condition of the possibility of historicity as a temporal mode of being of Dasein itself”(BT 20, 17).


[17]Vogel 54.


[18]One of the difficulties about the use of the term historicism is that it does not become accepted until it reaches the end of its formative phase in the years after World War I. Herbert Schnädlebach, Philosophy in Germany 1831-1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), explains, “Although the term historicism may be traced back to very early in the nineteenth century, it first came into general use around the beginning of our own century; like many ‘isms’, it was first used to denounce—it signified something to be overcome, something which was in crisis, something outmoded.” Walter Schulz further clarifies this definition. “Historicism is the comprehension of history as the fundamental principle in human knowledge and in the understanding of the human world. This means fundamentally—that all being can and must be understood in terms of ‘historicity’. [It reveals] the radical breakdown of supra-temporal systems of norms and the increasing knowledge that we must understand ourselves as historical beings right to the inner core of our humanity.” Cited in Carl Bambauch, Heidegger, Dilthey, and the Crisis of Historicism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1995) 4.


[19]Vogel 55.

[20]Guignon 322.


[21]Guignon 336.


[22]Vogel asserts that “Guignon’s claim that the aim of the question of Being is to uncover enduring

and trans-historical meaning, values, goals, and ideals that were present in a most primordial relation between Dasein and Being sounds too anti-historical and metaphysical, and does not accord with Heidegger’s own criticism of the philosophical appeal to trans-historical foundations in ethics.” Vogel 56-7.


[23]Of course Guignon’s position can be defended by contending that Heidegger’s foundational ontology is, quite simply, ethnocentric and is only concerned with the origins of Western history.


[24]Heidegger recognizes “negative” and “positive” modes of “solicitude”(Fursorge), of encountering others ontically. In the negative mode, we are “deficient” in the sense of being “indifferent” to others, “passing one another by, not ‘mattering’ to one another . . .” (BT 129, 121). The positive mode has an “inauthentic” and an “authentic” dimension. The inauthentic dimension is revealed when one “dominates” the other by controlling in advance which life-possibilities (goals, careers, projects, decisions, etc.) are to be significant for the other. “In such solicitude the Other can become one who is dominated and dependent, even if this domination is a tacit one and remains hidden from him (BT 122, 114). The authenticdimension is “liberating solicitude” which is revealed when we “free” the other so that she may choose her life, allowing her to become what she is. “[This kind of solicitude] pertains essentially to authentic care—that is, to the existence of the Other, not to a “what” with which he is concerned; it helps the Other to become transparent to himself in his care and to become free for it” (BT 122, 115).

[25]Vogel explains: “This kind of interpersonal relationship seems to be precisely what Heidegger describes under the name ‘liberating solicitude’ an orientation toward others ‘made possible by’ an authentic self-relation. We must explore the possibility that the individualizing power of anxiety— the mood that reveals the ultimate groundlessness of one’s own existence—does not thrust authentic Dasein ‘beyond good and evil’ but is the basis for a correlative mood that discloses the dignity of others in their struggles to ‘become who they are’.” Vogel 71.

[26]For Heidegger, ethics, like the other sciences, is an ontic endeavor because it is concerned with our relations and comportments with other beings (Seiendes) and overlooks the being (Sein) of beings. Heidegger explains. “Dasein’s ways of behavior, its capacities, powers, possibilities, and vicissitudes, have been studies with varying extent in philosophical psychology, in anthropology, ethics, and ‘political science’, in poetry, biography, and the writing of history, each in a different fashion. But the question remains whether these interpretations of Dasein have been carried through with primordial existentiality” (BT 16, 14).

[27]Vogel 105.

[28]I am arguing that the early and later writings do not constitute two different Heideggers. His later works never stray from the initial question of the disclosive understanding of being in and through which beings come out of concealment. Rather, his emphasis shifts from: (a) the existential analysis of the relation of the understanding of being to our own factical being to (b) the inner-movement of the understanding of being in general as it moves through different epochal stages in human history towards its eschatological endpoint in the technological age, when being falls into complete oblivion.

[29]Heidegger confirms, “Techne is a mode of aletheuein.” “The Question Concerning Technology,” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. W. Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977) 13.

[30]According to Heidegger, the Greek word for “bringing forth” is poiesis, and poiesis has two domains. The first is physis, the Greek word for “nature,” which is unaided “bringing forth.” The second is techne, that which “is brought forth [by human beings], by the artisan or artist.” (The bringing forth of physis ispoiesis in the “highest sense” and occurs independently of human beings.) See “The Question Concerning Technology” 10-11.

[31]Consider Julian Young, Heidegger’s Later Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) 37-38.

[32]See Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 16, and “Building, Dwelling, Thinking,” in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (Harper: San Francisco, 1977) 330

[33]Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” 5, 19.

[34]Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” 27.

[35]Heidegger, “The Essence of Truth,” in Basic Writings 135.

[36]Heidegger, “The Essence of Truth” 128-30.

[37]Yet, Heidegger wants to make it clear that truth and untruth are not mutually exclusive. Because any given horizon of disclosure allows beings to be revealed as such in one way while simultaneously concealing other ways of revealing, disclosive truth is also “untruth;” it is a revealing/concealing. Heidegger confirms: “Truth and untruth are, in essence, not irrelevant to one another but rather belong together.” “The Essence of Truth,” 130

[38]Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York: Harper and Row, 1966) 55.

[39]Heidegger, “What are Poets For?” Poetry, Language, and Thought, trans. A. Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1971) 104-5.

[40]Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking 50.

[41]Heidegger identifies three fundamental epochs in Western history. First was the Greek epoch, where beings were disclosed as physis,” the primordial “bringing forth” of nature itself. Second was the epoch of the Middle Ages, where beings were disclosed asens creatum,” by God. Third was the Modern/Technological epoch where beings were disclosed as “objects” that could be “controlled and penetrated by calculation.” See “The Origin of a Work of Art,” in Basic Writings 201.

[42]Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking,”Basic Writings 328.

[43]Heidegger, “The Origin of a Work of Art, Basic Writings 67.

[44]Heidegger, “The Essence of Truth” 130.

Works Cited

Bambauch, Carl. Heidegger, Dilthey, and the Crisis ofHistoricism. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1995.

Guignon, Charles. “Heidegger’s ‘Authenticity’ Revisited.” Review of Metaphysics 38 (1984): 321-339.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1996.

“Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper, 1977.

Discourse on Thinking. Trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

“The Essence of Truth.” Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper, 1977.

“The Origin of a Work of Art.” Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. San Francisco:

Harper, 1977.

“The Question Concerning Technology.” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. W. Lovitt. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

“What are Poets For?” Poetry, Language, and Thought. Trans. A. Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Nietzsche, Freidrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1967. Olafson, Frederick. Heidegger and the Ground of Ethics: A Study of Mitsein. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism and Humanism.The Continental Philosophy Reader. Eds. Richard Kearney and Mara Rainwater. New York: Routledge, 1996. 65-76.

Schnadleback, Herbert. Philosophy in Germany, 1831-1933. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Schulz, Walter. Philosophie in der veränderten Welt. Pfullingen: Neske, 1972.

Vogel, Lawrence. The Fragile “We”: Ethical Implications of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern UP, 1994.

Young, Julian. Heidegger’s Later Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.


Kevin Aho

Kevin Aho received a B.A. in philosophy with a French minor at Idaho State University. He did graduate work at the New School for Social Research before completing his M.A. in philosophy at the University of Utah. He has recently defended his dissertation at the University of South Florida. His interests are in the history of philosophy, particularly 20th century Continental philosophy, including phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, and feminist philosophy. He has taught a number of courses at USF including upper division classes in contemporary Continental philosophy and Feminist Ethics. He also teaches philosophy part-time at Hillsborough Community College.